There's something about nearly bleeding to death within a few weeks of a 70th birthday that ... well, is frightening, of course, but also frustrating. And angering. Stupid body. I don't want to do this!
It gets no better when you consult a gastro-intestinal specialist, and she says "Well, you've lived a long life, all things considered." A little more enthusiasm for celebrating birthday 71, 72, and more, ma'm, if you please ...
"All things considered" reckons with the idea that I have motored through life since age eighteen on wheels. I'm a quad, more or less. I now use a ventilator a good deal of the time.
So fracking what!
I'm in no mood to die. I'm productive. My brain seems untouched, or if anything, stronger and more focused and less rigid in its perceptions and too-quick judgments than it was when I passed 40, 50, or 60.
Funny thing, marking those decades bothered me little.
But 70 does. The average life expectancy is 77.6 years, if you can believe the geeks at Harvard. Of course, that didn't account for me driving around a blind curve on the wrong side of the road at night at age 16 with no car coming the other direction. Otherwise, considering my relative good habits—eating correctly, one sex partner, no diabetes, good blood pressure—statistics say that a guy like me could expect to live to 85, at least according to other university studies.
Except for that crappy wheelchair, respiratory insufficiency, ventilator thing ... about which there are no statistics only the casual "all things considered" from the medical professionals, which in turn is a quick window into why so many crips are antsy about the assisted suicide movement.
Back to the point nearly bleeding to death: such an enterprise will change your outlook. About time, in all its slippery relativity. About being a self-aware being in this world. And, right down to it: about metaphysical faith, about being engaged in perceived reality one instant, and being a ready-to-decay hunk of biology the next.
Of course, I know I'm mortal, never meant to live forever on this earth, a bit of energy from God's Universe organized into self-aware matter for a period of time that equals less than a blip when measured against the 13-or-14-billion year history of creation. Of course, like you, I was Here (somewhere in the stardust) at the moment of creation, and when what remains after I am cremated when the life spark flickers to nothing within Me will still be Here. Albeit in different form, a form I pray will be self-aware, and in a pleasant eternity.
Take it from Albert Einstein, at least everything up to the self-aware post-death.
Al was a smart guy, but being Here in the Einsteinian sense means that my energy will have been dispersed, and what remains of my mass will someday be a jar of ashes secreted in my wife's coffin.
None of that physics palaver works to quieten my neuroses, nor my anxieties. Ain't nothing hurtin' so badly, physically or emotionally or intellectually, that I don't want to be Here in my present form, to love my wife, to see the little one who lives with us grow into a young woman, to experience the warmth of a cup of green tea on a cold day, to sit in the spring sun and read, to ...
You get the picture: for the first time, what with the birthday and the ulcer and the ICU and the dreams from the border line between the Here and the There, comes the echo that I am far, far closer to the edge of existence, that I can see the impending fall into the abyss, that I will not Be—all that is sometimes more real than the anticipation of life.
So what to do? Keep calm, and carry on. I suppose I can survive with a measure of sanity if I can continue to wake up every day with the idea that something interesting or useful or intriguing will happen.
And quit taking aspirin.